Teaching Naked: a Review

Disclaimer: If you found this blog post by Googling, you may or may not be in the right place since the title of this blog post, and the book being reviewed, may seem somewhat… “controversial”…   However, I assure you that the only thing that you might find that is even remotely controversial, but certainly not inappropriate [for the workplace], is Dr. Bowen’s advice.   Carry on!

Teaching Naked book cover

Back in 2009,  Jefferey Young wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Jose Antonio Bowen’s use of technology, or lack thereof, in his classroom(s) at Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX).  Dubbed “naked teaching,” Bowen stripped all teaching technologies outside of his physical class meetings, instead choosing to use the scheduled time for more discussion-oriented teaching and learning activities.   (Jes also wrote a blog post about it, which you can read here.)  Just about three years later, Bowen published a book on his model, entitled Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning.   He also recently came to Worcester to deliver a workshop on the methods described in his book for the Consortium.   Jes and I had the pleasure of attending, along with a few WPI faculty as well.

I have to admit, about halfway through Bowen’s book, I was skeptical of his definition of a “college classroom.”   With educational technologies these days, I personally feel that the “classroom” doesn’t just mean the physical space anymore.   Rather, the classroom extends beyond the physical time/space reserved in student registration systems into the virtual realm with the use of Learning Management Systems, asynchronous and synchronous communication/collaboration technologies, and social networking tools.    However, at this point, the definition of “classroom” is probably just semantics.   What Bowen is ultimately advocating for is that you engage students during the regularly scheduled face-to-face class meeting (notice I’m not using “classroom”???) in stimulating discussions.   He is not advocating that you remove technology from the course altogether, but rather, remove them from the face-to-face contact.   Outside of that face-to-face contact, Bowen feels it is important to communicate and engage with the students on their level, using the tools that they are used to using…

…and that means Twitter, and Facebook, YouTube, etc.   (Of course, email as well.)

Scared yet?   You needn’t worry about your personal life (and the personal lives of your students) invading your “classroom.”   I was.   Bowen spoke very well to these fears in his book (and also his workshop).  Rather than blend your personal and academic lives, Bowen suggests that you create private groups/accounts for class use.   This way, you can connect with your students, and vice-versa, but there’s no friending/following required.   You know your message is being received because you know your students are on these other “digital channels,” as Bowen calls them.   For those students that are not, he recommends that you put a copy of the message content into the LMS site for the course as well.

Why might I do this, you ask?   You can save valuable contact (again, I’m not using “classroom!”) time by making available brief announcements, summaries/conclusions, supplemental material, instant recall (“comment back with examples”), etc. using these means.   Why can’t this be accomplished with just a simple email?   It can, but Bowen suggests that you reserve email for more “thoughtful” teaching activities.   With email, you have an opportunity to be reflective, and to share and discuss real-world examples.   In a traditional lecture-based course, this can be hard to accomplish because of the breadth of course content that needs to be covered.  So, why not pull some of that outside of regular contact hours?   (I promise, this will be the last time that I remind you that I’m not using the word “classroom”!)

Jose Bowen
Jose Bowen

Bowen also acknowledges the wealth of material that exists out there on the web (think Khan Academy, EdX, Open Courseware, Merlot, YouTube, iTunes U, etc.).   Knowledge is no longer scarce, so how do we capitalize on that?   If you can find relevant, open content for your course, Bowen encourages you to capitalize on it.   Students are used to Googling/Wikipedia-ing (when will that become a verb?), so if someone else has already done a great job of explaining the concepts, why not encourage your students to access this material outside of contact time instead of reteaching it?   Contact time could then be spent doing problem-based learning, peer instruction, interactive discussion, or <<insert other engaging, active learning activity here>>.

If you are not able to find relevant material, consider creating some yourself!   WPI has a site license for Echo360’s Personal Capture software, which you can install on your home/office computer for the purpose of recording audio/video lecture files.   However, just because we refer to it as “lecture capturing,” doesn’t just mean that it can only be used to record a traditional lecture!   In fact, several WPI faculty have experimented with this type of “flipped” model, recording mini-lectures (or modules) for students to watch prior to attending the face-to-face meeting!   Please reach out to the TTL team to learn more!   For a great two-part article on understanding the flipped model, see this Faculty Focus linkI’ll note here that Bowen argues in his book against the “traditional” lecture capture model for this purpose, but I disagree as I think said traditional technology can be used effectively to generate flipped content.   Rather, it’s the “traditional” face-to-face lecture style that cannot simply be passively recorded and posted online for students.

So where do we go from here?   Start small, is Bowen’s advice.  I agree!   For the electronic and collaborative communications with your students, encourage them to help initiate and drive the asynchronous dialogue.   If you explore using existing, open content as a substitute for face-to-face lectures, try 1-2 modules first and see how it goes.   Or, if you plan to try record your own flipped lectures, work with the TTL team to think about your approach to 1-2 recordings as a pilot before you convert your entire course.   As always, evaluate and redesign/redeploy as necessary, and gradually increase these methods as you become more comfortable with the use of these technologies.

In summary, I really enjoyed reading Bowen’s book.  I enjoyed his workshop even more.   While I was skeptical when I first saw him launching his PowerPoint slides (remember, he advocates for a technology-free “classroom”), I quickly got over that.   As a presenter, he’s very engaging, and clearly passionate not just about his course content, but also about teaching as well.   (He also uses PowerPoint as a visual very, very well.)   If nothing else, hopefully his book, this blog post, and the other links (which I will reshare below) encourage more dialogue about the use of technology to support teaching and learning activities at WPI!    I encourage you to explore Bowen’s website at http://teachingnaked.com and be sure to check out his introductory video as well!


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